If you’ve read my blog before, you will know that I enjoy crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, mind-bender puzzles, word games, math games, etc. When I was a kid, my mother didn’t want me to eat candy, so she would put riddles in the plastic eggs for me to figure out and follow a trail to the final egg with a larger prize. I thought this was fabulous and fun. So naturally, when I had kids of my own, I continued the tradition.
At first, when my kids were little and learning to read (both of them were reading fluently by age 4 – I read to them constantly and we played phonics games a lot. Did I mention I like to play with letters?), it was easy. I would write single words and put them in the egg, like “milk” or “cat” for them to look for the next egg in that location. In those days, “piano” was the hard clue. As they got older, the clues got more complex. The riddles started to make their appearance. Then puns. Then Word Search. After they found all the words, the remaining letters spelled out the clue – yes, I constructed all my own puzzles – and eventually more elaborate puzzles, like Laddergrams, Kriss Kross… by the way: HUGE SHOUT OUT TO ERIC BERLIN AND HIS WINSTON BREEN PUZZLE NOVELS!!! …
Narrative puzzles, math puzzles and of course, ciphers and other alphabets. The hardest part of construction being figuring out how to have the answer to the puzzle clue the location of the next egg. Now that the kids are teenagers, I am constructing full on escape rooms for them. This consists of a combination of location puzzle clues, cipher keys, kinesthetic puzzles, the works. Also, I’ve got two kids and they each have some puzzles that apply to both of them and others to do on their own. For example, this year the opening clue had them fitting magazine cut-out words onto a big page by shape. Some shared, some not. They then each took the words that were unique to their own page, alphabetized them and used set notation to grab individual letters from those words, which clued them to do the next thing. Some puzzles could be done in any order, some had to be kept until later – so I had to figure out how to “drop” those at the right time. It’s rather complicated. But I love it.
I’ve done these bigger hunts for the past two years. This year’s hunt was my best ever. I was hoping we would spend at least a few hours together – I knew it was long and complex (we started on Saturday because I wasn’t sure if they would finish it in one day). It took them from 11:30am when the homemade cinnamon rolls were eaten until 10pm (with a whiffleball and dinner break in the late afternoon) to complete it. I was one happy Mom. We laughed a lot.
My son is 17 and about to graduate high school. In the fall, he is going off to college as an aerospace engineering major. One of his puzzles was a list of degrees and distances. The trail (which I measured out with compass and tape measure) had many twists and turns before going out the door to a pot of oregano on our back patio. After opening the puzzle, he happily ran up the stairs, grabbed his calculator, did some calculations, made a graph, and then walked straight out the back door and back in with the egg. He held up the egg, smiled at me and triumphantly announced, “Math!” (specifically trigonometry).
My daughter is 15 and is very tactile and spacial in her thinking. One of their combined puzzles was two NYT Sunday themed answers from an old crossword. I knew they wouldn’t want to do the whole puzzle, so I had to figure out how they’d get the long answers without help – I settled on using Bananagrams letters in the right amounts. The clue itself was was the 2 (pun) clues from the NYT numbered 1 and 2. Then because her puzzle was themed around the tv show Galavant (our favorite!!), it said Season I and had a list of letters with a set next to it Example A=7 (3,4); C=3 (1,2). This meant she needed seven of letter A, 3 in the first answer and 4 in the second; 3 of letter C and so on). To help her know to use the Bananagrams, I added a hint: Morse code of the knock knock joke from season 1 of Galavant in which the Jester says that old “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana” joke (I added “(grams)” after it). She thought about that a minute, then picked up the Bananagrams bag and started counting out the letters and separating them into two piles. As she pointed out, “The numbers all add up. That’s too much of a coincidence to be just a coincidence.” Having them divided them, she proceeded to figure out the answers to the puns by shifting the letters around. In Season II (same puzzle letters, phase 2), using a list of letters and fractions (example: A 1/3; C 0/1, and so on) she removed the letters from each set to pare down the choices to form the new words, which clued her (and my son, this was one of the double puzzles – one pun was hers, one was his) to the location of the next egg.
So proud of my kids. So glad I homeschooled as long as I did.
If you’re into this sort of thing, here’s the explanation of the table set-up in the photo:
The photo is taken from the point of view of one of their stuffed animals (Ewey the lamb). The two bunnies and two lambs (you can’t see the second one because she got lamb-napped and was part of the hunt) have hosted our egg hunt every year since those toys joined our family. They are all well-loved, in a Velveteen Rabbit kind of way. Ewey sits on top of the opening envelope of puzzle pieces (generally those are all shared ones). The bunnies hold eggs reminding them that when there’s a choice, she takes the pink egg and he takes the yellow egg (to match their bunnies). That way they know not to accidentally hijack the other one’s eggs. The papers the bunnies sit on are the magazine word pages – the message on there sets the tone and welcomes them to the hunt (it is also a three-part puzzle, as mentioned above). The four miniature paintings were for my son, as his hunt was Warhammer themed, based on the colors of the paints that we own. Later in the hunt, he had a narrative puzzle in which some art was stolen from a museum and he had to eliminate colors from the palette. The Trader Joe’s fig bars refer to Galavant (both Wormwood eating figs and the song “Comedy Gold!”, as does the chocolate and nut bowl. If you know the show well, you know those references (we have cats – again, if you know the show, you’ll know why that’s a relevant thing to say). Because her trivia knowledge of that show is extensive (she wrote out the whole script by memory), her hunt was based on foods mentioned during the show (that list has 115 unique food items on it, by the way).
My daughter and I were talking the next day about the hunt and she is so sweet, she wants to make me one next year. Of course, my son will have one too, since he’s going to be close enough to come home for holidays.
So we started brainstorming some puzzle ideas….